“In 1789 the French West Indian colony of San Domingo supplied two-thirds of the overseas trade of France and was the greatest individual market for the European slave trade. It was an integral part of the economic life of the age, the greatest colony in the world, the pride of France, and the envy of every other imperialist nation. The whole structure rested on the labor of half-a-million slaves.
“In August 1791, after two years of the French Revolution and its repercussions in San Domingo, the slaves revolted. The struggle lasted for 12 years. The slaves defeated in turn the local whites and the soldiers of the French monarchy, a Spanish invasion, a British expedition of some 60,000 men, and a French expedition of similar size under Bonaparte’s brother-in-law. The defeat of Bonaparte’s expedition in 1803 resulted in the establishment of the Negro state of Haiti, which has lasted to this day.”
- from the PREFACE to the first edition of The Black Jacobins, by C. L. R. James, Vintage Books, 1963
The large Caribbean island that became known as Hispaniola after the coming of Christopher Columbus to the New World in 1492, today is divided into two nation states: the western section of the island is known as Haiti since its independence in 1804, and the eastern section we know as the Dominican Republic.
Spain used to control the whole of Hispaniola, but the island was constantly being attacked by French, English and Dutch pirates. Eventually, Spain had to accede to French control of the western part of Hispaniola in 1697 with the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick.
This was a time when the whole of Central America, Mexico, and several southern and southwestern states of the present United States, such as Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, were known collectively as “New Spain.” After Columbus, various so-called conquistadores had invaded the New World from Spain, such as Hernán Cortés in Mexico in 1519 and Francisco Pizarro in Peru in 1532, and after the various conquests, there came settlers from Spain seeking their fortune in America. When Spanish settler families had children born in New Spain, these children were called Criollos, which is Spanish for “Creole.” This distinguished new generations from the original Spaniards.
For centuries during the Middle Ages, the European places we know today as Spain, France, Holland, Germany, England, and so on were ruled by monarchies (mostly kings, very few queens) which were blessed by the Holy Roman Catholic Church, which absolutely dominated Europe. When the Treaty of Ryswick was signed in 1697, both Spain and France were still ruled by Catholic kings, but England had broken away from the control of Rome where religion was controlled, and established its own Anglican Church in the first part of the sixteenth century.
These Christian European states began fighting for power and wealth in the New World, and that is why you have Caribbean islands today where black people like you and me only know how to speak French, or Spanish, or Dutch. On the specific island originally called Hispaniola, one side of the island spoke French, and the eastern side spoke Spanish. That is still true today – French in Haiti and Spanish in the Dominican Republic.
In Haiti, the French went all out in the cultivation of sugar cane plantations, importing hundreds of thousands of African slaves to work the Haitian countryside, which was lush three centuries ago. Europe had developed a raging appetite for sugar’s sweetness, and Haiti, which the French called San Domingue, became the greatest producer of sugar in the world and planet earth’s wealthiest colony during the eighteenth century.
Then, the wretched masses of the people of metropolitan France, oppressed by their king, by their church, and by their so-called nobles, rose up in bloody revolution in July of 1789. This revolutionary fervor spread to San Domingue, and mulatto Haitians began demanding the “liberty, equality and fraternity” which the French Revolution was advocating in France. As political turmoil grew in San Domingue, the black slaves of Haiti began their own revolution one stormy August night in 1791. Their leader was a voodoo priest by the name of Boukman. As the rebellion spread, other leaders became prominent, such as Jean Francois, George Biassou, and Jeannet. These three became more powerful after Boukman was killed in combat in November of 1791. Then, there came Toussaint L’ Ouverture, who became the Maximum Leader of the Haitian Revolution, defeating French, British and Spanish armies to become the most powerful military force in the New World by 1795.
Amidst the turmoil of the island, there were black Haitians who had thrown in their lot with the forces of the Spanish monarchy which ruled Santo Domingo (the Dominican Republic). In fact, as early as March of 1792, Joaquín García, the Spanish governor of Santo Domingo, reported that the Haitian rebels respected Spanish territory and were looking to the Spanish monarchy for refuge in the event they lost their war with the French. The Haitian rebels sought material assistance from the Spanish, arguing that they were really fighting for the French king, and therefore were friendly to his royal Spanish colleague, Charles IV. All Spanish answers to Haitian rebel pleas were negative, until the French revolutionaries in Paris guillotined the French king, Louis XVI, in January of 1793. The chief rebel leaders – Jean Francois, Biassou, and Toussaint, were then given Spanish military ranks and titles, which the Spanish government later denied.
The long and short of the violence on Hispaniola was that those Haitian leaders who remained loyal to Spain – Jean Francois and Biassou, and their followers, after their defeat by Toussaint had to be evacuated from the island. 115 of these Haitians ended up in the Yucatán at a place called San Fernando Aké, on the northeastern Yucatan coast near Tizimín and Kikil.
San Fernando Aké had grown to almost 250 inhabitants, including escapees and refugees from Belize, when the Caste War broke out in Yucatán in 1847. The Afro-Mexican people of San Fernando Aké fled south into Belize, and essentially disappeared!! They had been known for outstanding agricultural production in their Yucatecan village. Es preciso señalar que no fue Corozal el único destino de los habitantes de San Fernando, sino distintos puntos ubicados en las cercanías de la ciudad de Belice. (pg. 91, SAN FERNANDO AKÉ - MICROHISTORIA DE UNA COMUNIDAD AFROAMERICANA EN YUCATÁN, Jorge Victoria Ojeda and Jorge Canto Alcocer, Ediciones de la Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, 2006.)
When the Caste War violence subsided temporarily in 1855, the government of Yucatán tried to repatriate the black Yucatecans who had migrated to Belize, because they wanted to revive the agricultural economy of the northeastern region. The Yucatán government tried again in 1863 to repatriate the former Haitians, but to no avail. The Afro Mexicans of San Fernando Aké, in effect, disappeared into history, as did many black Belizeans who had fled north from Belize into the Yucatán before them.